Saturday, January 8, 2005

BOE seeks lunch
fee hike

A proposal would boost prices
for school meals by 50 cents

The Board of Education wants to raise the price of school lunches to cover up to half of the cost of preparing them, but any such change is a long way off.

The proposal to the state Legislature could result in lunch prices of up to $1.50, from the current $1. Students who receive free or reduced-price lunches because of low family incomes would not be affected by the change.

"I see this as enabling legislation," Budget Committee Chairwoman Karen Knudsen said yesterday. "This would allow us to raise prices if and when the need is there. Before we would ever take a step like that, we want to make sure it's warranted. We would have to have a lot of public input."

The draft bill, approved by the board Thursday night at the request of Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto, has to pass hurdles at the Legislature first.

If the board is given authority to raise prices, it would not do so before holding public hearings on the issue.

School lunch prices last went up in 2001, to $1 from 75 cents. State law now limits lunch prices to no more than a third of the cost of preparing them.

Gene Kaneshiro, director of the department's Food Service Branch, said costs have risen so much that the old formula "is not working for us now at this point."

"Our costs are going up -- food costs, milk costs especially," Kaneshiro said. "That's one reason. The other reason is personnel costs and significant increases in fringe benefits."

Between 130,000 and 140,000 students eat lunch in Hawaii's public schools every day, and any change in price would affect roughly 60 percent of them. The rest receive subsidized lunches.

Stafford Nagatani, executive assistant to the superintendent, said he could not hazard a guess as to when any increase might go into effect because there are too many unknowns, including whether the bill passes the Legislature.

"This just begins the discussion," he said.

Knudsen said board members would carefully consider the impact of higher prices before taking action.

"Whenever we do raise lunch prices, we see an immediate drop in the number of students buying lunch, and that defeats the purpose," she said. "We want to help kids."

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